Do they actually know what ‘sweatshop’ means?

Everyone’s been posting this on FB, and seeming to like it, but I’m really annoyed by it. There are genuine and serious problems with academic life that deserve serious discussion and even outrage. But this is not a description of a sweatshop:

Mr. Donoghue, the associate professor of English at Ohio State, says faculty life changed there three years ago, when professors saw a one-course reduction in their teaching load—to four per year. That’s when faculty members started clustering their teaching on Mondays and Wednesdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays. “It used to be the whole faculty was in the building, running into each other, having lots of conversations,” he recalls of the years when faculty members taught five courses a year. “Now the Monday/Wednesday people never see the Tuesday/Thursday people.”

When I saw the title, I thought it would focus on adjunct faculty, who often have huge workloads, no time for research, no job security, and no benefits. But they were mentioned only in passing. Instead, the focus was on the plight of those at top research universities, who complain about having to go to too many international conferences and not having enough time for leisurely lunches. There *are* problems at the research universities, and this commenter,mlisaacs, actually does a nice job of explaining one of them:

The increase in administrative loads is the direct result of the loss of full time professorships. With 70% adjuncts nationally, that leaves all of the administrative work on the backs of 30% of the faculty. I am not referring to the administrative roles of Deans and Chairs but rather all of those things that are related to the academic programs, advising students, serving on committees, governing bodies such as university senates, search committees etc. Enormous amounts of time must be spent writing reports, preparing for meetings, arranging meetings, and sitting in meetings. There used to be a much larger population to share these duties. To maintain any sort of standard, and continue to believe in what one does, most full time professors must work 7 days per week. Burn out is common. Add on to this that most students are really working people who are trying to be students, and it is easy to see that the academic environment leaves very little time for discussion, exploration, sharing, or collective learning.

If only they’d mlisaacs had written the article. There are real problems. But the article sounds like a bunch of highly privileged people at the top of the academic food chain whingeing about the fact that their lives aren’t insanely privileged in quite the same ways any more.* That does a disservice to the cause.

*Not everyone in the article is like this. And, in fact, the pressure to go to lots of international conferences is a real problem. But it ain’t a sweatshop, and it needs to be presented as part of a more intelligent analysis, like that by mlisaacs.

One thought on “Do they actually know what ‘sweatshop’ means?

  1. I, too, thought it would be a clarion call to help adjuncts. But as I got further and further into the article, I cared less and less simply because of the seemingly oblivious nature of its subject matter and tone.

    I can appreciate that workloads increase as you move up the tenure-track ladder, and that being overworked is never a good thing. On the other hand, I’m not looking forward to working harder to earn less than my PhD stipend once I graduate, either. That title is extremely (infuriatingly) misleading.

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